Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A bit of Norway at a country church in the Sogn Valley November 10, 2021

A simple country church, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WHENEVER I HAPPEN upon an aged rural Minnesota church, as I did recently in Leon Township south of Cannon Falls, I wonder about the immigrants who founded it. What are their stories? How did they feel living an ocean apart from their beloved homelands and families? I admire their strength. Their ability to board a ship and sail toward The Land of Opportunity.

A Norwegian name in the Eidsvold Church cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Oftentimes, the very names of these country churches and the names of those buried in the churchyard cemeteries reveal roots and heritage.

A brief history of the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The small white clapboard church Randy and I discovered on 70th Street in the Sogn Valley area was clearly founded by Norwegian immigrants. Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church banners a sign with a brief history. Founded in 1893. Also known as “Ring Church.” Built by Gulbrand Nilson. Last service in 1949.

My initial view of the Eidsvold Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

An online search dates the congregation’s organization to 1860. Perhaps the signage date references building construction. I couldn’t find much other information other than parishioners originally meeting for worship in homes, a common practice.

My own great grandfather, Rudolph Kletscher, who immigrated to the US from Germany in 1885, eventually settling on a farm near my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, opened his home for worship. A pastor from the Lutheran church in neighboring Echo led services for 8-9 families and in 1900 those German immigrants built St. John’s Lutheran Church in town.

For those brave souls settling in a new land, I expect their faith provided comfort, strength and hope. And a place to gather, to sing and pray in their mother tongue, to support one another, to socialize. To celebrate. Baptisms. Weddings. Confirmations. Christmas and Easter. And to mourn.

Marthina Ring’s unassuming marker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The final service held at Eidsvold, as noted on the church sign, was the funeral of Marthina Ring on April 11, 1949. I determined to find her grave marker and I did. It’s a small, unassuming stone engraved with her birth and death dates. Born March 7, 1865. Died April 6, 1949. Other Ring family stones are larger, more prominent. John Ring, I learned online, was a leading supporter of this church. I have no idea of his connection to Marthina.

Beautiful flowers grace the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

This cemetery appears cared for with golden marigolds, red and pink geraniums and other annuals splashing color among the grey and brown tombstones.

Water at the ready… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Jugs of water snugged against the church foundation show me that someone comes here regularly to water those plants.

A token of love left for a mother. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And a painted stone placed atop a marker for Virginia Jacobson reveals how much she is missed. Has been missed since her 2006 passing.

The door into Eidsvold was padlocked. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

That this church and graveyard have not been abandoned here among the fields in the Sogn Valley pleases me. This land, this church building, this cemetery meant something to those long ago Norwegian immigrants. And that is to be valued. Cherished. Honored. Celebrated, even by those of us with no connection to Eidsvoll/Eidsvold, Norway.

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IF YOU KNOW more about the Ring Church, please share. I welcome additional information. As is often the case at rural churches, I found the front door locked.

The Goodhue County Historical Society placed this historical interest sign at the ghost town of Eidsvold. The sign was erected to preserve the history of this former post office site and to recognize its historical contribution to the area. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Goodhue County Historical Society marks its ghost towns with road signs. In 2010, I photographed the above sign for Eidsvold, near County Road 30.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the backroads of Sogn Valley November 9, 2021

Along a backroad in the Sogn Valley, an aged barn and silo hug a curve on a gravel road. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

MINNESOTA’S DIVERSE LANDSCAPE inspires. From the vast prairie to the northwoods. From lakes to rivers. From hills to valleys. My home state, minus mountain ranges and ocean, is truly a beautiful place. We are so much more than cold and snow, as many non-residents equate with Minnesota.

The countryside near Nerstrand, on our way to Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Autumn, especially, showcases Minnesota’s natural beauty. This fall, Randy and I took many rural drives to immerse ourselves in the countryside and the season. We chose road trips over staying home and doing chores on the weekends. Our priorities change as we age. The work can wait. We recognize, too, the approach of winter. We felt an urgency, a need, to hit the road before the snow flies.

We drove through Nerstrand, past the grain elevator, on our way to the Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Often we choose a destination, this time Cannon Falls. But sometimes we simply head in a general direction, oversized Minnesota Atlas & Gazetteer available to guide us. We prefer paper maps to GPS. This trip, we aimed east toward Goodhue County, driving through the picturesque Sogn Valley.

The rolling countryside of the Sogn Valley provides a beautiful backdrop for farms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I love this rural region defined by farms and fields and winding gravel roads. Hills and river valleys and prairie intermingle and it’s all like poetry writing upon the land.

I delight in finding cows grazing deep in Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As a farmer’s daughter, I hold a fondness for aged barns, at one time the anchor of an agrarian life. I labored for years on my southwestern Minnesota childhood family dairy and crop farm, most of that time inside the barn. Or the silo.

Abandoned building, abandoned tractor in the Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Now, when I pass by barns weathering in abandonment, I feel overcome by sadness. I recognize that a way of life is vanishing. I understand and appreciate advances in agriculture while simultaneously grieving the loss of farm life as I knew it.

I worry about all the barns we are losing. They hold history. Stories. Memories. And they are falling in heaps of rotted wood.

Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church, rural Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But, on this drive through the Sogn Valley, we happened upon a small country church that uplifted my spirits. Country churches and adjoining cemeteries rate as another draw for me deep into rural Minnesota. They are historically, poetically, spiritually and artistically relevant.

Along 70th Street in Goodhue County, on a small plot of land ringed by a row of trees and set among cornfields, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church rises. The last service was held here in 1949. Yet, the aged clapboard structure remains. Important to someone. And on this Friday morning in mid-October, appreciated by me.

PLEASE CHECK BACK tomorrow as I take you on a tour around, but not inside (it was locked), Eidsvold church.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From flowers to cayenne peppers, a birthday celebration October 1, 2021

A beautiful birthday bouquet from my eldest daughter and her family. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I RECENTLY CELEBRATED a milestone birthday and I’ve never been happier to turn another year older. Gone is my absurdly high monthly health insurance premium of $1,245 (with a $4,250 deductible), replaced by affordable (and usable) Medicare coverage. And now I’m also eligible for the Pfizer booster vaccine. Yeah. Here’s to turning sixty-five.

Walking through the prairie at River Bend toward the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday with great fanfare or the usual birthday treat of dining out. (Even though vaccinated, I continue to be cautious and careful in these days of COVID-19.) Rather, Randy and I hiked across the prairie and woods at River Bend Nature Center, a treasured place to connect with nature in Faribault.

Omelet and hashbrowns, along with watermelon from the Faribault Farmers’ Market, comprised my birthday brunch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a delicious brunch prepared by Randy. We dined al fresco on our patio at a card table draped in one of my many vintage tablecloths.

Then, in the afternoon, we spent time with our eldest daughter, her husband and our precious grandchildren at their home. I appreciated the grilled burger and vegetables with my favorite, cheesecake, for dessert. A wonderful way to celebrate.

The only thing that would have made my birthday even better would have been the presence of our second daughter, her husband and our son. But they called from southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana and that brought me joy.

Thank you to those who sent cards, this one from my second daughter and her husband. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Some friends and extended family also texted wishes. I got greeting cards, too.

Gladioli from The 3 Glad Girls. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

And flowers. Randy purchased a clutch of gladioli at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. And when he presented them to me with a “Happy birthday!” while I was chatting with Andy Webster of MEG’S Edible Landscapes, Andy took note. “It’s your birthday?” he asked.

“Well, not today, but tomorrow,” I told him.

Smoked cayenne peppers gifted to me by Andy of MEG’S Edible Landscapes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Then he scooped a baggie of smoked cayenne peppers from the table. “Happy birthday!” Andy said with a smile. Now if that wasn’t the sweetest gesture from a young man who lives on his dream rural acreage in the Sogn Valley, runs his business and is working on a horticulture degree from Oregon University.

Andy’s genuine passion for MEG’S Edible Landscapes showed in his pitch and his personality. He is a genuinely warm and engaging person. To summarize, Andy sells a mobile system for growing vegetables like peppers, basil, beans, lettuce, carrots and more in bags that you can easily pick up and move. It’s ideal, he said, for someone like me without garden space. If enthusiasm and knowledge make for business success, then Andy is certain to succeed.

His unexpected birthday gift of those smoked cayenne peppers touched me in a way that resonated deeply. In these challenging times, I needed that affirmation of an unexpected act of kindness. What a great way to begin my next year of life.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An afternoon at the Sogn Valley Craft Fair October 4, 2014

NEARLY THREE DOZEN ARTISTS ring the farmyard, a grove of trees sheltering their tents on an autumn day that bites with a brisk wind.

Artists shelter in tents.

Artists shelter in tents.

Leaves litter the grass. Clouds break away into sunshine. Caps clamp heads. Hands shove deep into warm pockets.

Hand blown glass by Steve Claypatch of Ascension Art, Minneapolis.

Hand blown glass by Steve Claypatch of Ascension Art, Minneapolis.

And folks meander, pausing to admire the art that has drawn a crowd into the Sogn Valley southwest of Cannon Falls for the annual Sogn Valley Craft Fair.

Julie Crabtree creates fabulous mixed media modern embroidery fiber art.

Julie Crabtree creates fabulous mixed media modern embroidery fiber art.

The work of Renee Nation, fiber artist and felt maker.

The work of Renee Nation, fiber artist and felt maker.

Colleen Riley of Eureka Pots was selling this garden art among other soda fired ceramics.

Colleen Riley of Eureka Pots sells this garden art among other soda fired ceramics.

Here jurored artists vend their creations—photos, pottery, fiber art, jewelry, woodcarvings, prints and much more.

Homestead apiaries sells honey, beeswax candles and more.

Homestead apiaries vends honey, beeswax candles and more.

Here beekeepers sell honey and beeswax candles.

A welcoming vendor sold baked goods, preserves and more at Ruthie's Kitchen while the baker returned home, just down the road, to bake buns for Sunday's fair.

A welcoming vendor sold baked goods, preserves and more at Ruthie’s Kitchen while the baker returned home, just down the road, to bake buns for Sunday’s fair.

A blueberry tart from Ruthie's Kitchen.

A blueberry tart from Ruthie’s Kitchen.

Tenders of the earth peddle pumpkins and apples. Baked and preserved goods draw those hungry for a taste of Grandma’s kitchen.

Local band, Muchos Machos, entertains.

Local band, Muchos Machos, entertains.

Musicians strum and croon.

Dogs are welcome.

Dogs are welcome.

Dogs, accompanying their owners, are a reminder of farm dogs that once roamed this rural place in the shadows of looming silos.

An overview of the craft fair.

An overview of the craft fair.

There is something comforting and peaceful about being here among artists in a land where hardworking Norwegian immigrants once settled. In this place, this Sogn Valley.

Parked in the parking area along the farm drive.

Parked along the farm drive.

FYI: The Sogn Valley Craft Fair continues from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday, October 5. Parking and admission are free. Click here for more information.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Kerry Brooks Pottery from Dock 6 Pottery, Minneapolis.

Kerry Brooks Pottery from Dock 6 Pottery, Minneapolis.

The art of Renee Nation, fiber artist/felt maker.

The art of Renee Nation, fiber artist/felt maker.

This Sogn Valley farm site presents a beautiful rural setting for the craft fair.

This Sogn Valley farm site presents a beautiful rural setting for the craft fair.

Mariella TerBeest-Schladweiler of Preston has been crafting handbags at Helen's Daughters Handbags since 1989.

Mariella TerBeest-Schladweiler of Preston has been crafting handbags at Helen’s Daughters Handbags since 1989.

Richard Stephens of Super Session Press shows a block and print he crated.

Richard Stephens of Super Session Press shows a block and print he crated.

Vibrant zinnias at the Homestead apiaries stand.

Vibrant zinnias at the Homestead apiaries stand.

A carving by Bob Oates of Sogn Valley Woodcarving.

A carving by Bob Oates of Sogn Valley Woodcarving.

The pottery shed of Dawn Makarios who hosts the Sogn Valley Craft Fair.

The pottery shed of Dawn Makarios (left) who hosts the Sogn Valley Craft Fair.

A door inside the pottery shed.

A door inside the pottery shed.

An example of the pottery Dawn Makarios creates.

An example of the pottery Dawn Makarios creates.

Bring your appetite. There are food vendors on-site.

Bring your appetite. There are food vendors on-site.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Alpacas in Sogn Valley October 9, 2011

An alpaca outside the craft barn at Sogn Valley Alpacas & Crafts.

I DREW MY HAND across the scarves, stroking the silky, kitten-soft spun fiber of the alpacas.

Hats. Scarves. Prayer shawls. Afghans. Rugs. Clothing. Some tucked inside the small-scale barn shed that mimics the real barn a stone’s throw away. Other merchandise is draped across tables and clothes-drying racks outside, near the penned camel-hued alpaca that chose to ignore me for the most part.

Welcome to Sogn Valley Alpacas & Crafts along Goodhue County 14 Boulevard, rural Cannon Falls, a spur-of-the-moment stop on a recent drive to view the fall colors.

Jayne and R.J. Boersma's Sogn Valley Alpacas & Crafts near Cannon Falls.

Scarves and hats, close-up, and prayer shawls in the background displayed outside.

Silky soft clothing hanging inside the craft barn.

My husband and I missed the fleece demo at 1 p.m., the spinning wheel demo inside and the alpaca farm tour, unless, of course, it was self-guided.

We, in fact, missed any human contact. Not a soul was to be seen except for alpacas and chickens scratching and flapping too close for my fear-of-chickens comfort.

I checked out the merchandise, unsuccessfully tried to coax the elusive alpaca into posing prettily for a photo, side-stepped chicken poop, considered photographing pumpkins and squash splayed out on a picnic table, and then snapped one final photo of an “AGRICULTURE KEEPS AMERICA GROWING” sign before hopping into the car.

The sign supporting agriculture on the side of a shed at the alpaca farm.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday drive to view the fall colors in Sogn Valley October 4, 2011

A colorful hillside in the Sogn Valley area of southeastern Minnesota.

MINNESOTANS, THIS is your week.

Get outside. View the fall colors. Experience rural Minnesota at the height of harvest. This could be our best week, weather-wise, until next spring. Not that I’m trying to forecast gray skies and cold and that dreaded word, “snow,” but I’ve lived here long enough—55 years—to realize you should “make hay while the sun shines.”

I took my own advice on Sunday when the husband and I went on a fall color drive to the historic agricultural Sogn Valley area of quaint farms and wooded, rolling hills in northwestern Goodhue County.

We originally planned to paint a bedroom ceiling Sunday afternoon. But then, when a friend asked if the ceiling needed to be painted that day, we decided the project could wait. The afternoon was too beautiful to spend indoors with our eyes focused toward a ceiling instead of upward toward clear blue skies accented by the changing leaves of autumn.

So, just to offer you some visual encouragement to do a fall color drive or go for a walk this week, here are some photos I snapped on that Sunday drive.

We followed this gravel road, 20th Avenue, between Goodhue County Road 9 and Vang Lutheran Church.

Along 20th Avenue, I spotted these picturesque farm buildings.

I photographed Vang Lutheran Church across the cornfield west of the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin 10 minutes north of Kenyon or 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities.

An autumn-themed setting greets shoppers at the seasonal Harvest Thyme Craft Show at the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin, 2290 Goodhue County 49 Boulevard, Dennison. Remaining weekend show hours are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. October 8-9 and October 15 - 16.

We were driving westbound on Goodhue County Road 9 toward Sogn.

You'll see lots of old barns, like this one along 20th Avenue, in this historic agricultural region.

Farmers are in the fields harvesting corn (pictured here) and soybeans.

The Sogn Valley area offers scenic fall color viewing in a rural landscape with little traffic. To truly experience the region, turn off the highway onto back gravel roads. Have a plat book handy and a navigator with a good sense of direction, which would not be me.

CHECK BACK FOR more photos from this autumn drive and for a post on Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a popular fall color destination. The park parking lot was overflowing on Sunday. Colors were spectacular.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling